Bella Notte and Swaying Lanterns

December! Finally OK to talk about Christmas now? Ooohhhhhh I love this season – even all the rain and cold is worth it, and from looking at photos on Facebook posted by friends and family in Sweden, it seems we’re in for a beautiful, snowy Christmas! Last year, B and I went over for New Year’s on a whim (I do most things on impulse and now B does all that with me, so off we went) as Monkey was with his dad (we alternate) and unfortunately we were ‘treated’ to one of those rare green Christmases you get once in a while. In fact, this was apparently the first in 15 years – typical, when I’d been so keen to show B what Christmas should really look like. What I showed him was pretty much the same as we had here in London but with less traffic and a lot more trees. This year promises to be different though, and I hope it’ll be one of those magical Christmases I grew up with and have enjoyed throughout my life going back there to be with my family every other year since moving away.

I have no doubt B will be somewhat confused by some of our traditions. He’s taken to pickled herring, snaps (and the drinking songs that go with it) and Lucia, but will he understand why Donald Duck is an integral part of every Swede’s Christmas Eve? That’s right. Donald Duck. Since God knows when, but presumably since the 50s, this has been the case. Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve (Christmas Day is sort of “the day after”, when you have lunch at your gran’s and then go out in the evening), and it’s the same procedure every year. At 3pm sharp, the whole family and/or gathering of friends – whoever you’re spending Christmas with – get seated in front of the TV to watch Donald Duck.

Same clips every single year (I, like most other Swedes know most of them so well I can rattle off any dialogue and sing any of the songs on cue) – first the classic ones like Lady and the Tramp (the restaurant scene where the doggies enjoy a bowl of spaghetti and end up nose-to-nose to the tune of ‘Bella Notte’), Ferdinand, Mickey Mouse and the caravan trip with Goofy and Donald Duck, Cinderella (when the mice sort out her dress for the ball at the castle) and then usually some clips from more recent Disney efforts. No doubt there’ll be something from Frozen and all the clips are presented by Jiminy Cricket. It’s not truly Christmas until Jiminy Cricket sings ‘When You Wish Upon a Star‘ at the end.

Apart from celebrating on Christmas Eve and the Donald Duck weirdness, Santa also shows up to deliver the presents (on Christmas Eve of course) as opposed to just chucking them down the chimney. Presumably it’s because there aren’t that many Swedes and it gives him more time to allow for a more personal festive service.

So for my family it goes like this…

As a child, Christmas Eve is one long, drawn-out torture having to wait for Santa, who only shows up waaaaaaay later. In the morning we all head to my dad’s for Christmas breakfast, usually a type of rice porridge you add a dollop of butter to that melts in the middle (it ends up resembling a fried egg, actually) and then some chaos when all the grandkids tear the place down before he hands out the presents (too early for Santa), which are the same every year: bank statements to show what he’s put into whatever stocks he’s invested in and how what he’s saved for each of us has grown. The grandkids don’t get excited, but at 18 when they’ll be able to buy a car, they’ll be very grateful. Back at my mum’s the morning usually consists of mum whizzing around and fussing over last minute adjustments, checking the Christmas ham and getting the rest ready for the huge Christmas lunch spread she puts on. She’s impressive.

So we’re back at my mum’s for Christmas lunch by 1pm. 3pm the sacred Donald Duck ritual, which lasts an hour. After that, coffee and whatever cake and treats mum’s put together. Yes, there’s a lot of eating going on – if you don’t feel queasy by mid-afternoon, you’re not doing it right. By this time it’s normally approaching 5-6pm and the younger ones are usually at this stage frantic with anticipation. On the signal of one of the adults, the kids will clamber up around the windows to look out for Santa, who is “very close now”. Of course at this time it’s pitch black outside. And then the excited yelps and screams and laughter when they finally spot his lantern swaying as he makes his way through our huge garden, zigzagging his way between the trees in his red outfit and carrying his sack of presents on his back.

When he knocks on the door, mum invites him in and greets him. He then asks if there are any well behaved children in the house, at which point everybody lies and screams yeeeeeeeees, and when Santa’s satisfied there are, he comes in and takes a seat. Mum hands him a mug of mulled wine and then he starts to hand out the presents.

Every year, it’s one of the neighbours dressed up (the men usually coordinate it over the phone, taking turns at each others’ houses), but even now that I’m in my late thirties, there is still a little girl inside of me who glances out of the window at the swaying lantern and truly believes in Santa.

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